Last Thursday was All Saints' Day, a holiday here in France, so I had a quiet day at home with my boy. Halloween came and went this year and I hardly even noticed, which is unlike me. I usually love to take in the decorations and even attend a party or two, but that just wasn't in the cards this time around... I didn't hear from a friend of mine who usually holds an annual Halloween fête, so perhaps this year something came up -- last year I had a good time dressing up as a chat noir, but unfortunately I didn't yet have a camera so I wasn't even able to immortalize the hilarious moment. I had gone all-out with the makeup, so the look was pretty convincing. A friend of mine did take a photo, but then I never got to see it... Oh well! I sometimes miss the Halloween fun from back home in the States, and although in recent years the French have gotten more into the holiday, it's true that it just isn't quite the same. Granted, there's a lot of commercialism in the holiday itself, particularly in the U.S., but it's still a great opportunity for kids to have a blast dressing in costume. When I used to work in children's books I helped out with organizing a big annual Halloween party, and although I was always stressed about my own costume, I loved seeing the wee ones dressed to the nines, wearing face makeup and enjoying the candy.
Thursday afternoon I took my time preparing a wonderful new recipe (I tend to be very long in the kitchen anyway -- my boy always jokes that we don't eat before midnight some nights, which is only a slight exaggeration!), a spicy butternut squash soup that was rich, creamy and delicious. I have to credit French Saveurs magazine for this little gem, and I'll be sure to include the recipe here later today, once I get my hands on it again. This time around I also had a little helper, because a friend of my boy's came over with his son and he joined me in the kitchen. He watched me making my way around the tiny space, curiosity piqued, and asked all kinds of questions. When I opened up the squash and started cutting it into cubes, he seemed fascinated -- so I asked him if he'd like to help out a bit. "Why don't you start by scraping out all those seeds?" He willingly obliged, and concentrated on pulling out every last one of the seeds with his fingers and putting them in a small bowl. We toasted the seeds in a small pan with some salt, and after cooking down the squash in a mix of chicken stock and coconut milk, we puréeed the soup in a blender, added in the toasted squash seeds, some poitrine fumée, which is basically the French version of bacon, and some fresh cilantro leaves. Valentin, my kitchen aide, rinsed the cilantro while standing on a stool over the sink, as you can see in the photo, and pulled the leaves off the stems. He did this so carefully, and I was blown away by how meticulous he was about everything. When we served the soup at the end, he was thrilled by the result -- even if the curry and the ginger made it a bit spicy! "Ca pique, mais c'est pas grave !" He didn't seem to mind too much, and ate half a bowl on his own, adding in some extra seeds from time to time. The seeds reminded me of the pumpkin seeds my grandmother would roast in the oven when I was a little girl.
I had such a good time making this soup with Valentin, I couldn't resist starting over again on Sunday with a new batch. I had bought two butternut squash at the market last week, so I had enough to make two rounds. Unfortunately, for some reason the second squash had barely any seeds! Good thing I didn't use that one to make the soup with Valentin... Here he is, super-proud of his efforts. He's quite the little cook! Wish I had started this young...
1 medium-sized butternut squash (the recipe doesn't specify weight, but I think that the average-sized squash would do -- the soup only serves about four small bowls, and it is very rich)
Peel the butternut squash and cut it into small cubes. [Also, reserve the seeds inside the squash -- you can toast these later in a small pan, with some salt if you like.] Peel and finely chop the onion. Warm up the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven and cook the onion on light heat for about 3 minutes, until it is transparent or a bit soft. Add in the ginger and curry powder and cook for another minute or so, while stirring. Add in the butternut cubes and cook them for about two minutes, again while stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour in the chicken stock and the coconut milk or cream. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 20 minutes (until the squash cubes are nice and tender).
While the soup was simmering, I dry-roasted the squash seeds in a pan and then did the same with the slices of poitrine fumée until they were nice and toasty-brown and a bit crunchy.
Mix the soup in a blender or with an immersion blender (I know a regular blender is more high-maintenance, but I find it gives me better results, and the texture of the soup is creamier), add some salt if necessary. You can then serve the soup with a slice of the bacon in each bowl, or you can slice up the bacon into tiny pieces. Sprinkle on a few cilantro leaves and some toasted squash seeds, and voilà -- creamy, spicy butternut goodness!
* I found this recipe in French Saveurs magazine, november 2007.